Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Who's the Big Kahuna (of Writing Programs)?

Up until recently when I decided that I wanted to pursue creative writing in graduate school, I had only a handful of writers and their respective styles in mind. And of that handful, only one writer and style did I actually see something of my own (or what I assume is my own) personal writing style. The other writers I think I am merely in awe of, or have been trained to consider the ground broken by way of their work, most of which are contemporaries.

When I began looking for a graduate program I wanted to attend a school with some Caribbean roots so I applied to the University of the West Indies in Cave Hill, Barbados for Cultural Studies. I am yet to hear from them. My recommendor sent them her letter over three times before they said they received it. It's been four, almost five months, and they have yet to get back to me with not so much as a yay or nay regarding my application for Fall 2009! And if you check the date on this post, its well into the fall season. Anyway, I choose Cultural Studies because I was drawn to the field of humanities and anthropology. I studied Religion in addition to Creative Writing as an undergrad and thought I could continue studying various Caribbean (indigenous) religious traditions in the process but none of this worked out. I still get upset thinking about it. (I'm going to write UWI an angry email, one among many I've written over the past few months, after I finish this post.)

Since my attempt at Cultural Studies did not work, I thought up the next best thing. I would research schools with Caribbean English faculty and apply there. So while compiling this list, I decided on Kwame Dawes, Lorna Goodison, and Merle Collins. I also had some more writers but of course they were based out of none other than the University of the West Indies, which I decided to have sit out this list of potential schools.

U.S. News and World Reports every year, without fail, comes out with a list of the top 50-100 colleges in the U.S. for anxious high school juniors racking themselves mad over SAT prep. It also rates the best graduate programs in law, medical, business, liberal arts, and even fine arts programs, but did you know that no where on any of those lists is a ranking for creative writing? It's not ranked under English or Fine Arts. So basically what the U.S. News and World Report are trying to tell you is, if you plan to write creatively (because journalism is damn sure listed) for a living, you can kiss their behinds.

So how does one come up with a good list of creative writing graduate programs. Well first off you do some soul searching because creative writing may very well lead you down a path of no money, and second you consider some professional writers in your own space, professors and graduate students for instance. They're in the boat you're longing to catch. Also, research to find out what sorts of writers and/or styles you like. I'm tempted to say that you should also consider aligning yourself to a movement, though I'm pretty sure movements are only considered so after the fact, not during; and what's more, its difficult from our vantage point to see differences in style and form as being even grander manifestations of thought working to polarize writers into distinct groups.

Either way, be glad now writers have their own forums, seasonal publications, which handle some of these needs. Consider The Atlantic which just came out with an issue of the U.S.'s top creative writing programs. My alma mater is ranked at number 2, (and in all honestly it's always very high on the list, and it makes me wonder why don't apply there and then I think, I've already been there, and I really really do need a change of scenery.) The Atlantic does a really great job because it separates the schools based on varying factors such as how well funded they are, if they're innovative, up-and-coming, most distinguished faculty, and notable alumni just to name a few categories. If you're interested just take the following link to the article/rank and learn more.

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200708/mfa-programs#

Sunday, September 20, 2009

muse: undersexed, draft three

I think I may have had a breakthrough with a poem I've been dealing with for a year and a half now. I think I've managed to eliminate the vulgarity of the original poem while salvaging those phrases I really loved. I'm talking about none other than "Muse." I wrote about it a few days ago and the original version in all its sexdom is also noted further in the past somewhere on this blog. The extravagant format I originally placed it in, meant to somewhat mimic Opal Adisa's "The Painter, is gone here but nonetheless the poem stands for itself. (Also, this is something I will not be ashamed of getting critiqued by my recommender.) Enjoy!


FEMME FATALE


I come like relief from heat,
chilled breeze blown
through a shaft somewhere

beyond your head. Women know me
by my stance, legs so wide I can easy
fit their man inside. I hold my body like

the haughty bitch they think
I am, watching their man
suck the side of his mouth,

rub palms against jeans,

trying to keep the silhouette of my
nakedness from ballooning outside

his head or pushing out onto
the balls of his eyes. You see, I

exist to pluck passion from the stockpile of metal

it may be obscured in, to have men want to utter
the syllables of my name, sounds riding on an
upturned tongue, lips pursed as if awaiting a kiss.
Like summoning a demon, or pleading in prayer

that’s what wanting looks like. But I am just a
woman, my serpentine flesh is not the eve of nativity

or naiveté, but with it alone I’ve nuked saints

and gods, broken up and thrashed time, all

because men must have me. They never
lose my scent, their noses snuffing far away
bars scattered with my aura, the air – the way it

taste of ripe mango after I’ve left. I don’t need to see
them to know they do it. I can read the room’s Braille
in the cushion of my fingertips when I wave good night.


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What Do You Believe?

An exercise in my Poet's Companion book led to this, in my opinion, quite funny poem. The overall intent was to create an "authoritative" voice. The instructions were simple enough, they asked you to list six things you seriously believe in, then three silly or outrageous beliefs (which from the instructions, I wasn't clear whether these three silly or outrageous beliefs were things I had to seriously believe in or if they had to be silly or outrageous in general). Anyway, then you had to make another list of rules for yourself, four having to do with how you conduct yourself as a person and two having to do with you as a writer. Then another list with two statements of disbelief and three statements of things you would never do.

Coming up with things I seriously believed in was difficult until I had to brainstorm things I didn't believe in. I suddenly realized how many things I believed in and it made me feel good because sometimes I feel as though I'm always losing faith in things. The other day I admitted to a friend of mine that I don't believe in anything; it makes trying to create or write more difficult, empty and meaningless. I enjoyed the exercise for reminding me of the things I appreciate most, things that make me -- me.



BECAUSE MY YOUTH IS NO EXCUSE, I BELIEVE

in simplicity like hardness pushed up against softness, double

D-cups, black shorts and peep toe heels on five-foot ten

inch sable women; I believe in being one of the prettiest girls

in the nightclub, unsmiling for no apparent reason, vodka

and energy drink stinging the pink flesh of the throat,

laughing at jokes made by guys who buy me these drinks;

I believe in oxtail bones I can suck the gravy out of; I

believe in fucking strangers, giving them all my pinking

anger and leaving it to roost on their clammy flesh; I believe

in love at first sight the original instinct; I believe in

ex-boyfriends being imaginary, something I dreamed up

because I was lonely but have since outgrown; I believe in

subject areas where conscience is the prime matter at hand;

I believe in reading everything by Nikki Giovanni, making my

own phrases as memorable as "then i awoke and dug/ that if i

had natural/ dreams of being a natural/ woman doing what a

woman/ does when she's natural/ i would have a revolution;" I

believe in watching romantic comedies for a cry, waiting for the

aha! moment when the leads realize their love budding like fruit;

I believe in appearing as intelligent as possible without being

snooty, speaking only when my two cents is required; I believe in

day time talk shows with guests whose lives make normal people's

appear less reckless; I believe in many gods representing colors and

the elements of the periodic table; I believe in damn good music,

manipulated word sounds and melodies making out the language

of soul; I believe in taking time to be alone, walking aimless through

my neighborhood until I can think of nothing but the brilliant green skin

of the iguanas crossing in front of me; I believe in practicing cynicism

only when it's funny or when I'm telling my friends the truth; I believe in

cussing in the home tongue where feelings are as raw as they are

ugly; I believe in me like I believe in the possibility of glass breaking; I

believe in forgiveness I don't have to get on my knees.



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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Willing Back Grandmother, Draft Three

Okay so this would be draft three of this poem. I think, knock on wood, that this may be it. It's symmetrical, and not too sentimental to the point of redundant or afterschool special. I don't read it tomorrow and say otherwise though. Nonetheless, here it is.

WILLING BACK GRANDMOTHER

If I flew an airplane into interrupted space
and made a big enough dent in time, I could
get her back on Sunday greasing my scalp,
tearing through parted tufts of hair, fiercely
weaving the wildness together, whipping
my fingers with the wooden brush if I felt
the tender spots were she pulled too hard.

She said man cannot live by bread alone so
she'd make codfish and callaloo greens. But
who's going to make them for me now? Who's
going to wash them and steam them just so?
Lay them out in front of me? Cuss me when I
don't eat them? Lash me with a switch from the
cherry bush when I bawl I don't want to eat them?

I stand for long whiles watching her gravestone,
commanding her memory to rush out from
behind me and cut me with its eyes or slap
the openness of my cheek or fret when school's
long been out, and night has fell, watching the tip
of Belleview Heights Hill for a skinny brown girl
walking with her shadow towards the house.



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Friday, September 18, 2009

Willing Back Grandmother

The poem I'm going to share with you today has some issues and for that reason is still being revised. One thing that I do like about it is the ending; I love the ending image, it's clear slightly melancholy and it gets the point across. However, a problem that I'm having with it is that I believe the middle and perhaps even the first stanza are not doing enough. Without saying it, I want to say why the young girl misses her grandmother. I feel that the speaker has reason to be upset and yet she isn't, she's young after all and the grandmother is cruel for no reason. I want the middle stanza(s) (during more rewrites) to convey that there is some redeeming quality to the grandmother's anger, though I worry that my attempt to justify her anger will eventually be my downfall if I try to revise it with this in mind. I would also like to capture the young girl drawn to the grandmother despite her angry disposition. Either it is because she is young and knows no better or because she can't help loving her, probably the former because it's less sappy and/or corny. Either way I hope you enjoy it.


WILLING BACK GRANDMOTHER

if I flew an airplane into interrupted space
and made a big enough dent in time maybe god
would take me seriously so that I could get her back
on sunday greasing my scalp, braiding my hair, whipping
my fingers with the wooden brush if I felt the tender spots
where she pulled too hard.

she said man cannot live by bread alone. what else did he need i
wanted to ask? perhaps a side of codfish & callaloo greens
but who's going to make them for me? who’s going to wash them and
steam them just so? lay them out in from of me? cuss me when I don't eat them?
lash me with a switch from the cherry bush? if I don't eat them,
who's going to make me eat them?

i stand for long whiles watching her gravestone commanding her memory
to rush out from behind me and hug me, or cut me with its eyes, or teach me
the history she didn't want to tell me, or fret when school's long been out
and night has fell and watch the tip of belleview heights hill
for a skinny brown girl walking with her shadow towards the house.



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Teamwork & Muse...again

I have wonderful news to report. I found a place nearby that does poetry and spoken word, at a venue called The Goddess Store & Studio in Downtown Hollywood. They have open mic poetry this upcoming Sunday evening; and I'm really excited about it. Earlier I mentioned that it's crucial for any writer, beginning or professional, to have a group of writers to surround themselves with because it gives your work an audience that can one day become a movement. And isn't that what all writers are looking for, to be a part of something big enough to have its own theme?

The audience of writers is particularly important because if you're writing with the hopes of improving your craft, their opinions and tips can always steer you in the right direction. Poetry readings and open mics are not exactly the same thing as workshopping but they are a good place to find out what works and what doesn't in a particular piece. Primarily being a page poet, I value what the experience of having your work voiced can do for growth. It allows you to tell the story as you intend for it to be told, something that countless times doesn't always come across in poetry that you have to read and analyze for yourself. The audience responses, or silence, can gauge whether or not the message you are trying to convey is being relayed successfully.

I remember sharing my "Muse" poem with a group and wondering if they understood what was going on. The images were overtly and purposefully sexual, but heard out loud perhaps pushed the character's sexuality to a field completely out of bounds. I wondered whether the poem simply worked better on white space, one in which the reader could take their time following the story of the speaker. Or perhaps it was the way I presented the poem -- yes it was sexual, but was I bringing the character's energy, their raunchy and deviant persona to this reading? And the answer had to be no, I wasn't. I was embarrassed to voice this sort of vulgarity, especially in front of people who had come to know me a certain way. Perhaps all these things contributed to my failed attempt at sharing "Muse."

In an earlier post, I tried to tone down the sex in the poem, make it more grandma-friendly but something keeps telling me it's meant to be this way. I still struggle with the ending, something about the rhythm is off near the end. I think the words have too many syllables or something. I ought to try to do some scansion perhaps keeping the rhythm intact will help me tone it down a bit.
For more on The Goddess Store and Studio, check out their website http://www.goddessstore.com.
And more information about poetry events at this location, check out http://www.meetup.com/378.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sprung. "Firsts" Drafting.

I have another version of this poem entitled "Firsts" on this blog, but after consultation with fellow writers and some re-reading, I've realized this may be the better draft. I don't know, you be the judge.


SPRUNG

You think because he calls me up from abysmal wells and runs wayward

that he’ll always be lost in songs he can’t escape living in or places

he can’t pronounce, that he is master over me. But you don’t see the way

he drops his arms, knocks back his hardness when he is faced with me.

He wishes he could wring his skin of me the way he does beautiful

women too faint to be heard over his wolfing nights. I give to him the

pieces of me I can bear to lose, the openings and the parts already dead.

He imagines me a hot water unguent bottled beside him. He seeks me

out like the money he’s been missing, knows I’m like grass, always a

few staggered steps away. I reach into his wood hollow and pull out prayer,

grate it into his bicep with my razorblade of tongue. He gives me powers

to hear his time crackling and sparking pretty like ember. Poor thing,

watches a room arouse itself with smoke wanting to savor, his mouth

open and drying, its wetness wishing to God it were steam.




Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Revising Firsts Part 2

I last left off saying that I would try to do a stream-of-consciousness write for the speaker of "Firsts," and what I realized in the process is that the she, let's call her J (I thought about the way all my literary examples last time had their main character female with first names beginning with the letter J and thought maybe that's a formula for a good romantic tale, or not), is not as meek or as passive as the original draft will have you believe. Writing in J's voice, I found that she holds her appeal as a covert weapon, one not easily discerned for the outside. Her character is so much more alive and interesting than it had been before that it seems to betray her age, which when I wrote the first draft I imagined to be a teenager. But then when I think about it, isn't it in your teens that your chest must be puffed out the most? When you are most insecure of yourself but so sure about decisions you've already made? Perhaps I was living in a cliched idea of how a young girl losing her virginity ought to feel. I ought to know better, my own lost of virginity episode was as anti-climatic as most, but what was most significant about it was how sure I was in my decision and even in the process. It's a sort of blind confidence that's harder to maintain now that I've matured, a-hem all-around, that makes decision-making a much more pain-staking task than ever before.

The next step in this process will probably be how to marry the images of the first draft to the voice of the speaker. I'm starting to hate my first draft, I wonder if that's progress.


You think because he calls me up from abysmal wells that he is master over me,

but you don’t see the way he levels his arms, knocks back his hardness

when he is faced with me. He wishes he could wring his skin of me the way

he does other women too faint to be heard over his wolfing nights. I give

to him the pieces of me I can bear to lose. He imagines me hot water.

Truth is I know his name better than he knows his own. I reach into his wood

hollow and pull out prayer, grate it into his bicep with my razorblade of tongue.

I hear his time crackling and sparking pretty like ember. He seeks me out like

the sleep he’s been missing, knows I’m like grass, always a few staggered steps

away. You think because he runs wayward that he’ll always be lost in songs

he can’t escape living in or places he can’t pronouce. Poor thing, watches

a room arouse itself with smoke wanting to savor, his mouth open and

drying, its strange wetness wishing to God it were steam.



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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Revising Firsts

"Firsts" is about a young couple coming together for a night. My recommender noted that while the poem is alive with good imagery, there is still a lot left unsaid with regard to what is ultimately at stake for the characters, specifically the young girl in the story and her fascination with the "he" involved. She asks, "Who is the 'he,' and why is this interaction with him significant to the speaker? Can this poem become more than just the description of an evening tryst?"

What is at stake for both characters? Romeo and Juliet have their fueding families, Janie and Teacake have their community, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester have their past looming like the present. But what do my characters have in the way of their love? While the beginning of the poem begins as though this is somewhat of an illicit meeting with the girl sneaking out of her house, it doesn't continue that momentum, the pressure of being caught, if that in fact is what is at stake, is not kept up through out; the two meander through the town without a care. So perhaps what is at stake is not them being caught but what effect this particular night will have on the lives of both of them, or maybe just the girl, since she's the speaker.

In the original version of this poem, the girl wanted "his innocence in her memory forever" though because these were the last few lines, I was blasted for it. Too abstract, especially for the last lines. It seems in this current and past version that my concentration on images over what needs to be explained...Explanation I stumble here. I've been taught not to do it, let the images speak for the scene. Perhaps the images I'm giving aren't explaining what I want them to explain.

All this considered, to begin revision I 'll do a stream-of-consciousness write in the persona of the speaker, to get to the core of her feelings towards the guy in the poem.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Untitled (for T.J. Nicholson)

You are so much more than my feeble words can say. So much more beautiful, so much more inspiring, so much more effulgent, so much more delicious than my feeble words can say.



i've always wanted eyes the shape of almonds

because they are poetic & romantic

& to me an analogy redolent of nature.

but mine are small,

each eye one perfect half

of a perfectly formed almond,

each concaving pupil as symmetrical as ocean shoreline to sky.

i wonder if my quinep-like eyes

breaking through their pliant slits of skin covering

will always be squinting. if they are as open as they can be.


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Revising BabyGirl Part 2

Is this a "finished" product? I do like this draft much more than the first but I wonder if the last two stanzas appear as though they're competing to be the last words. The current last line was the last line of the last draft which I decided to move down in order for the new entries, stanzas 4-6, to have the best possible placement. Still, line 12 seems to command a statement worthy of the last line. In order to combat its finality, I added a "just" after the refrain, I wonder though if it is enough or if I ought to consider shuffling some more or simply scrapping one of the stanzas all together.

Also I pared down the formality, resorting to non-capitals and ampersands. I wanted to create the feeling of this girl's experiences being inconsequential, expendable, and easily forgotten in the form of the poem as well as the language. Maybe it's over kill, maybe it's not. In either case, it is all in the name of re-visioning and as a result the poem is definitely toting a new air.

Also, I mulled and I picked at possible title ideas. I tried to pick out a nice word from the poem but I thought doing this would give too much privilege of one image over another. Then I thought about what the poem was about and I immediately came up with the token words: abandonment, melancholy, sadness, longing, lost. They were helpful and kept me from teetering too far off the end finding a title. I thought first okay in the poem there is a lost girl. Lost Girl, whack. Okay, I thought, what about an inversion, Girl Lost, better but still eh. Then I thought more about the poem; the girl wasn't lost yet, what is really going on is her slow deterioration. So I thought okay, Approaching Lost. It is still a little if-y but it is definitely a step up from the previous title, Baby Girl, gag I know.

Without further ado, I give you draft numero dos.

approaching Lost

let's say i'm still bow-legged & broad-backed, foot bottom hard
from dragging in the okra-colored garbage bin to the back;

let's say i'm a gash that for too long has gone undressed,
gangster pathogens have readied me for labor so i'm paying;

let's say the amphetamines you gave me keep my teeth from
rattling & my bones from turning cold on my sheetless bed;

let's say i'm forgetting where to find the planets you say give
absolution of typhus & words like the color of your hallowed dog;

let's say i tell time by the number of bowls i've stirred, dusty corn
meal & milk residue live in the ionosphere of my salty fore arms;

let's say the tears i get diving into clay bases are stigmata,
& my hair is like a peach i saw you bite into when you were here.

let's just say i'm losing you pulling up alongside, asking me to come
with your sun-diluted eyes, saying i'm pretty, asking my name.

Revising BabyGirl

Yesterday, I received an email from one of my recommenders who is also a former poetry instructor about the poems I sent her to review. I sent her a copy of "Baby Girl", "I Don't Know Why", "Willing Back My Grandmother", and "Firsts", two of which, "Baby Girl" and "Firsts", are available somewhere on this blog (check the archives tab under August). The two already on this blog are the ones I am going to revise publicly. (This is going to be quite embarrassing. The inner workings of revision is normally done in private, it's like changing clothes, the fanfare of technique and skill are stripped to rawness and every amatuer or paltry verbiage is exposed. These lines mock so-called talent and skill before you finally, short of breath, exhausted unearth right fits, form, style.)

Of all the poems, she believed the one that was most interesting was "Baby Girl" which details a young girl lost. It is a rather awkward poem that I wrote haphazardly and rather quickly. She says, "Of all the poems, this one is the strongest. What I like about it is your use of language, which is very alive and jumpy and inventive. I also like the specificity of the imagery—you’re really showing me the action here, as opposed to telling me, which is a trap you fall into in some of the earlier poems. " She suggests adding four more lines to the poem, so two more couplets. She also suggests changing the title which I agree with. I hated it when I wrote it but I figured I needed something to catalogue it with. In the meantime, the following lines are ones I'm considering. Possible titles to come.

let's say the bulbousness below my breasts smells of hot sugar
cane you'd hand me, the length of your arm, veiny & crude;

let's say i tell time by the number of bowls i've stirred, dusty cornmeal
& milk residue living in the ionisphere about my salty fore arms (like skin);

let's say i forgot where to find the planets you say give ablution
of typhus, & words like your name & the color of your hallowed dog.

let's say i stopped lying about the scrapes i got sliding into bases being stigmata,
& my hair is almost like a peach i saw you bite into when you were here.